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La Rochelle confident of landing Gibbes despite his denials

By Jonathan Bradley

The curious case of Jono Gibbes and La Rochelle continued yesterday with sources in France still believing the departing Ulster head coach will take a job with the Top 14 outfit.

Gibbes has long been known to be leaving Ulster due to a family issue back home in New Zealand and has already been confirmed as taking over at Waikato in the weeks ahead.

After initial scepticism on Ulster's end, French media reports that the former Clermont and Leinster coach would visit La Rochelle on Thursday proved to be correct.

While it was a day off for Ulster and their staff, when Gibbes was tracked down by the club, they were told that he had been in France but he would not have been in a position to accept any job offered due to his family situation.

But despite Waikato also having spoken to their incoming coach to discuss plans, sources continue to persist that he will be in the Top 14 next year.

In more pressing matters, Ulster take on Ospreys at Kingspan Stadium tomorrow with a place in next season's Champions Cup on the line (3.05pm kick-off).

Having already lost Iain Henderson to injury, the province are without skipper Rory Best too after the hooker suffered a hamstring injury in training during the week. His place in the No.2 jersey, and as captain, is taken by Rob Herring.

Short of back-row options, Robbie Diack has been deployed in the No.6 jersey alongside Nick Timoney and Sean Reidy, while Academy lock Jack Regan could make his debut off the bench.

While it will be a last game in an Ulster jersey for Callum Black, Charles Piutau and Diack, there is no place in the 23 for any of the retiring trio of Tommy Bowe, Paul Marshall and Andrew Trimble.

Elsewhere today, Leinster will play host to Munster at the RDS Arena in the second of the Guinness PRO14's semi-finals.

After winning the Champions Cup thanks to victory over Racing 92, Leinster have been forced into making a number of changes with Johnny Sexton, Dan Leavy and Robbie Henshaw all missing out through injury.

While the former two should be fit if Leinster were to make the final, Henshaw remains doubtful for that, though may still be fit to go on Ireland's tour to Australia in June.

Head coach Leo Cullen said: "He has done a little bit of damage to his knee. It is nothing too major, a few weeks. I talked to him in the gym, he's making quick progress. It is just too soon for him this week."

In Sexton's absence, Ross Byrne will wear the No.10 jersey, with Joey Carbery again playing at full-back. Both men have been linked with moves to Ulster in recent weeks.

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